Close Up

2 - 16 November 2010: Close-Up on Kaneto Shindō


Kaneto Shindō’s career in cinema began aged just 16 in the art section of the Shinko-Kinema Tokyo Studio. His work as a director in the 1960s broke new ground in Japanese cinema for its unflinching portrayal of the role of eroticism in human existence.

The Naked Island
Kaneto Shindō
1960 | 94 min | B/W | Digital

Filmed on the virtually deserted Setonaikai archipelago in south-west Japan, The Naked Island was made "as a 'cinematic poem’ 'to try and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature". A small family unit and their subsistence as the only inhabitants of an arid, sun-baked island. Daily chores, captured as a series of cyclical events, result in a hypnotising, moving, and beautiful film harkening back to the silent era. With hardly any dialogue, Shindō combines the stark Scope cinematography of Kiyoshi Kuroda with the memorable score of Hikaru Hayashi, to make a unique cinematic document.

Kaneto Shindō
1964 | 103 min | B/W | Digital

Onibaba is set during a brutal period in history, a Japan ravaged by civil war between rivalling shogunates. Weary from combat, samurai are drawn towards the seven-foot high susuki grass fields to hide and rest themselves, whereupon they are ambushed and murdered by a ruthless mother (Nobuko Otowa) and daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) team. The women throw the samurai bodies into a pit, and barter their armour and weapons for food. When Hachi (Kei Sato), a neighbour returning from the wars, brings bad news, he threatens the women’s partnership. Erotically charged and steeped in the symbolism and superstition of its Buddhist and Shinto roots, Kaneto Shindō’s Onibaba is in part a modern parable on consumerism, a study of the destructiveness of sexual desire.

Kaneto Shindō
1968 | 99 min | B/W | Digital

Kaneto Shindō’s Kuroneko is a sparse, atmospheric horror story, ascribing to the director’s philosophy of using beauty and purity to evoke emotion. In this magnificently eerie and romantic film – loosely based on the Japanese folktale The Cat’s Return – a mother and daughter-in-law are raped and murdered by pillagers, but return from the dead as vampiric cat spirits intent on revenge. As the ghosts lure soldiers into the bamboo groves, a fearless samurai, Gintoki is sent to stop their reign of terror. Kuroneko remains a standout film of the kaidan eiga genre of period ghost stories often based on old legends or kabuki plays.